Growing the next generation of environmental stewards at The Central Gardens of North Iowa
by Guest Blogger on Wednesday, July 20, 2022
It was so refreshingly simple, heart-warming, and hopeful. It was around 7:00 p.m. on a warm summer evening when I saw a dad and his young daughter walking through the Gardens. Well, he was walking; the daughter was skipping and singing and just generally enjoying a carefree moment.
I heard him holler for his daughter, “Come here, you have to smell this!” She made her way to him, and was visibly surprised when she smelled the leaf he held. “That’s spearmint,” he explained. He went on to show her all the different herbs planted in that garden. She was so intrigued and curious. She wanted to smell them all. She had questions. There was beauty in that moment, watching her connect with nature.
This is the heart of what Central Gardens of North Iowa is about. This welcoming garden on nearly three acres of land in the middle of town has made it a mission to promote environmental stewardship and enhance learning opportunities for all. With 20+ themed gardens, it really does have something for everyone.
The Bee Happy Discovery Garden advances that mission and is a kid favorite. This interactive garden space buzzes with excitement, inspiring curiosity and nurturing a connection to nature. At any given time, but especially on Friday mornings, you’ll find kids watering flowers, digging for (artificial) bugs and worms, and exploring with magnifying glasses. Children become fast friends at the art table, which is situated next to the tactile garden where they touch plants that feel silky, spiky, and everything in between. With the native bee house, they learn the importance of pollinators to a healthy, growing garden. I’ve watched elementary-aged kids turn to the compost barrel to ask what it is and what it does. I’ve watched them search for butterflies and yellow pansies to complete their scavenger hunt. I’ve watched them harvest carrots, beans, and beets and “sell” them at a free-will donation stand. And that hen house with the three named hens? That’s super popular.
These Gardens are a kind of magical place for kids. A place where they make memories, exploring and discovering. While children and their families enjoy the Gardens all throughout the season, a robust calendar of youth programs helps them to seek, grow, and share. Older kids often mentor younger kids, as well as share their knowledge and abilities in their communities. And through it all, these children are developing a connection to nature, a respect for all living things, and a sense of responsibility to care for it.
I hope that young girl who smelled the spearmint in the herb garden that night is still asking questions. I hope she is infectious with her curiosity and remains enthusiastic about her discoveries. I hope the awe she felt that evening blossoms and remains with her always.
Central Gardens of North Iowa is a non-profit that relies on the talent and dedication of more than 100 volunteers, uses organic growing practices, and offers more than 70 events, activities, and concerts free of charge. Funding comes primarily from grants, donations, memberships, and rentals.
About the Author
Jennifer Merfeld is a volunteer at the Central Gardens of North Iowa. She has worked in marketing and communications for over two decades. She attended Iowa State University for her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing. She has been a soccer youth coach and a board member with Clear Lake Parks and Recreation. She has a passion for volunteering and bringing people together for a common cause.
- land stewardship